Passing Down My Treasures of the Heart
How I’ve passed down the Buddhist faith I learned from my parents to my children and learned to trust my heart. I’m Mimi Utsumi from Arlington, Texas.
Living Buddhism: Hello, Mimi, we’re so happy to speak with you and three generations of your family. We understand that you developed a solid foundation in your Buddhist practice while young. Can you tell us about that?
Mimi Utsumi: I would say the whole time leading up to and following the SGI’s excommunication from the Nichiren Shoshu priesthoodOn April 24, 1979, Daisaku Ikeda stepped down as third Soka Gakkai president to shield the members from the perverse machinations of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, which had colluded with corrupt former Soka Gakkai leaders to wrest control of the lay organization. While Ikeda Sensei’s activities in Japan continued to be curtailed by the priesthood, he turned his focus to opening the path of worldwide kosen-rufu. As president of the SGI, he worked tirelessly to encourage the members through his activities overseas, including those in the United States. True liberation came on November 28, 1991, when the SGI formally disassociated from Nichiren Shoshu in an event known as our Spiritual Independence. was formative for me. Following the split, the youth groups I was a part of took a big hit. Not understanding what was going on, some members distanced themselves from SGI activities.
That must have been difficult for you. What motivated you to continue practicing?
Mimi: It certainly was. I missed my friends and our camaraderie.
At first, my inspiration was my parents. They helped pioneer the SGI’s kosen-rufu movement in Texas. Growing up, I saw them battle hardships with united prayer. For example, when the stock market crashed in October 1987, it placed significant stress on our family finances. My parents could have bickered and lashed out at each other, but they never did. Instead, I saw them take their bitter difficulties to the Gohonzon. Because of my parents’ prayer, our house was never unhappy.
What a wonderful example. It seems that they helped you see beyond the confusion caused by the priesthood issue.
Mimi: Definitely. And, I remember attending a meeting when Ikeda Sensei spoke via satellite broadcast to SGI-USA members, clarifying the heart of the issue with the priesthood. He said at that meeting:
The Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin is the great teaching that enables all people, wherever they may be, to carry out the highest practice of faith and gain the supreme benefit of attaining Buddhahood. It is the teaching that enables each person to cultivate the greatest wisdom, lead the most respectable of lives and attain the greatest happiness.My Dear Friends In America, third edition, p. 155.
I felt that Sensei was saying that Nichiren Buddhism is about ordinary people seeking the Mystic Law and that no clergy or intermediaries are necessary. I knew that what carried my parents and us kids through our most difficult times was not a priest praying for us but my parents consistently seeking the Mystic Law through the Gohonzon and the writings of Nichiren Daishonin.
Mr. and Mrs. Kubiak, how did you stay strong during this time and convey the spirit of Soka to your children?
Bill Kubiak: When Sensei came to Dallas in 1984, he encouraged me and other members supporting his movement behind the scenes. When he shook my hand, it seemed as if we were eye-to-eye even though I’m quite a bit taller. I felt as if he were saying to me, We’re in this together. I thought about how when the priests visited Dallas, they spent their down time playing golf. But Sensei was always on the move to encourage the members. The way he looked at each person, the way he engaged them, pouring his life into each moment—it was a special thing for me to see. By living the teachings, he earned the respect and admiration of others, me among them.
I never preached to my kids about the practice. I did my best to live up to the teachings. Each picked it up in their own time, in the way that was natural to them.
Reiko Kubiak: I never met Sensei in person, but by reading his writings and watching his videos, I feel like I know him. In one video that I saw when I was a young mother, Sensei was seeing off members after an SGI event. He said while waving to them: “Please be careful! Please get home safe!” In his eyes was the care a parent has for their children. I thought: I can trust this person. In that moment, I knew I would be steadfast in my faith.
Sensei’s warmth and care seems to be the common touchstone for your family. Mimi, how did you develop a relationship with Sensei as a mentor?
Mimi: For me, it was in June 1996, when I supported Sensei’s visit to open the Florida Nature and Culture Center in Weston, Florida.
At the time, I had been engaged to my high school sweetheart. He proposed, I said yes, but then I held out on getting married. The question weighing heavily on me was whether I could live a happy life with him, as he had opposed my Buddhist practice.
The day I arrived at the FNCC, I had some down time, so I decided to chant. As I did so, I had a moment of clarity: I cannot marry him. Then and there, I broke down crying. I continued chanting for him to understand that we would not be happy together, bickering forever about my religion. I rose from that chanting session having made an important decision. But on the shuttle back to the hotel, doubt crept up on me: Do I have the courage to go through with this?
The next four days were a blur of intensive organizing and managing events. I felt Sensei’s care for us working behind the scenes as he provided refreshments and messages each day.
The last day, I was asked to support the general meeting with Sensei attending. My task was to ensure the exit remained clear. Passing me before the exit, Sensei looked me in the eye and said, “Always trust your heart.”
That guidance, that whole event, has never left me. I felt renewed confidence in the decision I had made at the start, to break off my engagement. By chanting to understand Sensei with my heart, I feel like he responded in the way that I could understand for the rest of my life.
Breaking off the engagement was incredibly liberating. A new confidence took root in my life. I wasn’t worried, I wasn’t in any rush. The right partner would show up when I was ready. All I had to do was trust my heart.
That’s so profound. And how did this guidance impact other aspects of your life?
Mimi: It gave me the confidence to step into the role of young women’s leader for Texas and Oklahoma the following year. My initial thought was: Why am I being asked when there are so many other capable people further along in their faith? My leader told me it was because I knew how to step up for the members. I’d begun to trust my heart and base my decisions on chanting to the Gohonzon. Doing activities with the young women in Texas and Oklahoma has been among the most enriching experiences of my life.
How wonderful! We understand you have built a wonderful family with your husband, Andy, and sons, Tyler and Austin. Tyler and Austin, what have you learned from watching your mother?
Tyler Utsumi: Growing up watching my mom support the members taught me what it means to put 100 percent into life. Sometimes, after a meeting, she would stay to give more encouragement. Her actions to encourage others have taught me to push myself, to bring forth for others more and more of my own potential.
Austin Utsumi: One thing my mom is really good at is listening. She’s always willing to listen to you. If you have a struggle, even something small, she’s willing to sit down with you. This brings out the best in all of us. Everybody’s so happy around her.
I can see the difference the practice makes in my life as well. Chanting has helped both my brother and I take on more school-wise without sacrificing quality time with our friends. I’m really excited to have graduated from high school and to have been accepted into an engineering internship. Without a consistent morning gongyo routine, I think I may have burned out. It’s definitely the most optimal way to start the day.
You guys are incredible. Mimi, as a student support clerk for a school, how has your Buddhist practice impacted the way you approach your students?
Mimi: On my monitor at work I have a reminder. It reads: “My response is kind, helpful, appreciative or value creative.” I never treat the kids with anger or animosity, but always with a smile. Somehow, I need to inspire them with my life.
What are your dreams for the future?
Mimi: Young people should trust and respect themselves. I feel this next generation of SGI youth understands the heart of Buddhism in a way that took me a long time to understand. At work and in the SGI, I work with youth. My dreams are their dreams. Sensei has taught me how to trust my heart and the Gohonzon. Passing on those lessons is my life’s work.
|↑1||On April 24, 1979, Daisaku Ikeda stepped down as third Soka Gakkai president to shield the members from the perverse machinations of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, which had colluded with corrupt former Soka Gakkai leaders to wrest control of the lay organization. While Ikeda Sensei’s activities in Japan continued to be curtailed by the priesthood, he turned his focus to opening the path of worldwide kosen-rufu. As president of the SGI, he worked tirelessly to encourage the members through his activities overseas, including those in the United States. True liberation came on November 28, 1991, when the SGI formally disassociated from Nichiren Shoshu in an event known as our Spiritual Independence.|
|↑2||My Dear Friends In America, third edition, p. 155.|